Inside the decrepit children’s ward at an Indian hospital where 85 infants died last week, Ram Prasad prayed his two-year-old daughter would escape the same fate as he scanned the overcrowded hallways for a doctor.
His plight in ‘ward 100’, where the death of so many children has sparked outrage, is emblematic of a healthcare crisis where doctors are stretched to breaking point and hospitals run out of oxygen due to unpaid bills.
Authorities have launched an inquiry into the causes of the oxygen disruption at the now-notorious Baba Raghav Das Medical College in Gorakhpur, which Indian media has linked to the deaths of 30 infants last Thursday and Friday.
Local officials have blamed an outbreak of encephalitis for the deaths and denied a lack of oxygen was responsible.
But doctors and medical experts point to woeful underfunding in public health in eastern Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest regions, where just a handful of specialists are available to treat millions.
“This (deaths) won’t change soon, as it isn’t a simple oxygen issue. The rot is deep and the system needs to be overhauled,” a senior hospital official told AFP in Gorakhpur, speaking on condition of anonymity.
India was spending just 1.4 percent of its GDP on public health in 2014—far below the global average of six percent.
In Gorakhpur, there are just 529 primary health care clinics—less than half the number needed to cater for nearly 4.5 million people living in the district, July data from Brookings India shows.
There are just five paediatricians and 22 encephalitis treatment centres, despite the mosquito-borne illness wreaking havoc in low-lying areas of the state every year during the monsoon, AFP revealed.